2020 turned many things upside down–from the mundane rhythm of our day-to-day lives to the larger shift in how individuals interact with, evaluate, and engage with brands. But as social justice conversations broke out online, many organizations were confronted with past failures, bringing about calls for greater transparency and accountability.
The reality is that many businesses have flown under the radar and haven’t had to worry too much about their online reputation. They might operate in fairly non-controversial spaces, and with a crisis plan collecting dust on the shelf and some basic social and media monitoring in place, feel like all of their bases are covered. But in a world in which a single online comment can bring down a company, it’s more critical than ever to have a robust strategy for proactively addressing reputation issues in 2021.
Reputation management is simply getting harder. Misinformation or disinformation can spread rapidly across multiple, layered channels online, creating a complex web that can easily trap and take down a brand. Consider the ongoing conspiracy theories surrounding Wayfair last year that accused the company of trafficking children. Despite countless fact checks and brand statements, the rumors quickly accelerated past the point of no return. Or, in the case of Dominion Voting Systems–a seemingly non-controversial tech company—baseless accusations created a distorted reality that ultimately led to billions of dollars in lawsuits and unfathomable damage to the brand.
These are some extreme examples, but companies must face the fact that it’s just a matter of time before a media quote is misinterpreted, a controversial social post from an employee gets resurfaced, or a small discussion in a sub-Reddit quickly brews and explodes online. No matter your industry or size, a reactive strategy isn’t enough. It’s time to update your strategy with a more nuanced and proactive approach.
Expand your monitoring with comprehensive listening tools
Although the recent stock market surge of Gamestop caught many Wall Street veterans by surprise, those immersed in Reddit subcultures saw it coming well in advance. The lesson here for brands isn’t simply to just monitor Reddit. Communities and conversations are fragmented, extending far beyond the major social platforms. And, for every niche group you’re aware of, there’s likely countless others you haven’t even seen.
Do you have a complete picture of what people are saying about you, your product, and your industry? Are you able to spot emerging issues before they snowball into a full crisis? Powerful monitoring tools are available, but many fail to invest in them until it’s too late. Take inventory of your tools, explore what’s new in the market, and begin addressing gaps now.
Audit and build your presence on top online review sites
It’s no surprise that bad reviews have more influence than good ones—in fact, 82 percent of shoppers seek out negative reviews. As soon as rumors start to circulate about a brand, the first thing one does is conduct a Google search to see what others have said. Online review sites have climbed the Google ranks in recent years, with sites like Glassdoor, TrustRadius, and other niche industry sites appearing on the first page of results–not to mention the Google reviews taking center stage.
These review sites send an important trust signal to your audience, so it’s important to make sure you’ve proactively established a clear paper trail with consistent, authentic reviews along with consistent messaging. People want to know what your customers and employees think about you. Now is the time to make sure those positive reviews are in place before they become necessary.
Brush up on your ethics
When it comes to online reputation management, there’s no shortage of shady solutions and recommendations. From the placement of fake reviews or purchasing backlinks to bribing a Wikipedia editor, communicators must be vigilant and evaluate everything through the lens of the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics.
If reputation issues need to be addressed, don’t rely on quick fixes. This is the time to roll up your sleeves and get to the root of the issue–a challenge that professional communicators are well-equipped to address. At the end of the day, audiences want honesty, empathy, integrity and respect. Don’t throw this out the window in an attempt to control a reputation; stick to your principles and always do the right thing.
Communicators should drive reputation management
Although the online landscape changes constantly, PR practitioners have the training and tools necessary for establishing credibility with and earning trust from the public. As reputation management becomes a larger priority in the future, it’s important to constantly educate business stakeholders on the emerging risks and ensure that a robust plan is in place to protect the brand’s reputation in this new era.